Teachers, what do you do to help your students succeed?

Greuter Socrates
Greuter Socrates (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are there teachers who do not want their students to do well in class? This question was asked by a parent the other day. The student whose parent asked this question experienced confusion in the tasks that were given, tests that were given without warning, little consistency on how information was given to the students and there seemed to be a reluctance in answering the students’ questions.

This is the first time a parent has asked me this, but not the first time the thought has crossed my mind. With a testing regime and an urgency to cover  the curriculum, students often find that they are pressed for time. Teachers expect the students to study Sundays and until at least 9-10 on weeknights. A lot of energy is put into planning lessons and the teaching for the teachers, and in most cases a lot of time is spent on studying by the students. Why then do many students not achieve the results they are hoping for? Sometimes I think, the reason is that the communication between the teacher and the students is muffled and confusing. I recently read Chris Lehman‘s book Building Web 2.0 school and a sentence that stood out to me was:

With everything we teach , we are always faced with two very different challenges. One, what are we doing to unlock the passion and skills of the 10 percent (or so) of the kids who either already are or could become so passionate about our subject that it makes their course of study past their high school education? And two what are doing for the other 90 percent of the kids? Why is it important that they are taking this class?

One of the main points of his book is this: teaching is not an individual affair, —or at least it shouldn’t be. Teachers are better when they work collaboratively, but even more than that, teachers teach better and students learn more when the school has a vision that actually means something and a plan to make that vision a reality. Our school’s vision should be to help all students achieve their goals, by making it clear what we expect.

With our recent debate in Norway about attendance in school, after the government suggested and imposed a strict 90 % attendance limit for graduating, I am starting to think about a third assessment method. Formative, Summative and Punitive. Because if you have a smart kid in class, who skips most of your lessons, but still aces the tests, not giving him/her a grade is surely a punitive assessment? “You did not listen to my lectures, therefore you can not get a grade in my class”, too bad you clearly know the content, this is the responsible way to teach you a lesson! I first heard the expression punitive assessment on Twitter via Tom Whitby.

Many teachers are reluctant to change their practice in the classroom  and I do agree that we do not need to change just for the case of changing. Innovation is not necessarily the same as improvement. My thoughts on changing schools with the use of technology are that we now should be able to meet every student at their level of learning.  I will end this by some more quotes by Chris Lehman. If you haven’t read his book I really recommend that you do! You can start by watching his TED video below.

What we want in our schools is not disruption, but evolution. Our schools cannot stay static—on this we can agree—but disruption and revolution are the wrong models. We want our schools to evolve. We need to grow; we need to take the best of what we have been and marry those ideas to the new world in which we live. The patterns of the growth of our educational systems should follow a logical path, with as few disruptions as we can manage.

The death of any great idea occurs the moment its inventor falls in love with it. The death of any great student occurs when she decides she is smarter than all her classmates and therefore has nothing to learn from them. The death of any great teacher takes place when he falls in love with the sound of his own voice and stops hearing the voices of the students who would do more than parrot the teacher’s voice back at him. The death of any great principal happens when she thinks she is the only one who can move the school forward and stops listening to the students, teachers, and parents she serves.

Commit to giving students feedback on their work that includes mentions of only what they did well and where they inspired you. Grading student work and providing feedback is a deficit-oriented task where teachers tend to be on the lookout for everything the students need to fix. Stop that, and commit to helping students see only what they do well. Without that, we are leaving it to chance or only assuming that students will see the worth of their work. That’s a dangerous gamble when considered with the critique we freely provide.

I would love to hear from you